Q: What do you do when your 5,000-word “Tiger Woods is the Greatest Athlete of all time” column gets Yanged on Sunday afternoon?
A: You pump out a Red Sox report card!
My own fault, I was overconfident after Friday and assumed that we would spend the weekend watching a Tiger double-digit victory. Lesson learned.
So the focus here will be on the Sox, who have about a lap to go in the 2009 mile. This is my second report card of the season (for those of you who failed to bookmark it, here's the first), and as you’d expect there have been more than a few changes.
All stats are through 8/17 (and fire away at email@example.com if you disagree with any grades handed out)…
Josh Beckett (A)
Untouchable the last four months. He has killed righties this year, holding them to a .244 on-base percentage.
I don’t know if he’s going to win the Cy Young Award (if the season ended today I’d still vote Halladay -- better ERA than Beckett plus leads the league in WHIP) but if you’re a Sox fan I understand why you’d think this is the best pitcher in baseball.
Beckett has been so good this season that you can almost ignore that the guy you traded to get him has become maybe the best player in the world. Has there ever been a deal that has worked out so well for both teams? Plus a World Series MVP as a throw-in? I’m serious; name me another trade that comes close. The test is this: knowing what you know today, if you could jump into the DeLorean and go back to November 24th, 2005, would you still do the Ramirez/Beckett deal? I’m thinking most Sox fans would.
Hideki Okajima (A-)
How about these numbers against left-handers?
.161 batting-average against
.207 on-base percentage
.253 slugging percentage
Basically, all lefties have been Jason Varitek against Okajima this season.
Kevin Youkilis (A-)
My MVP ballot (if the season ended today, of course).
10. Carl Crawford
9. Mariano Rivera
7. Derek Jeter
6. Michael Young
5. Kevin Youkilis
4. Justin Morneau
3. Miguel Cabrera
2. Mark Teixeira
1. Joe Mauer
(If I had done this two months ago, it would have been a coin flip between Mauer and Jason Bay for the top spot.)
So the Red Sox went 2-3 during Youkilis’ suspension. Can we finally put to rest the notion that these fights will do anything but hurt a team? These are grown men. I’ve never bought that they needed a “spark” or a wake-up call. C’mon. Varitek fighting A-Rod in 2004 had nothing to do with the team winning the World Series that year, yet I still read and hear about how that was a defining moment (for instance...). If that was the case, why did the Sox fall down 3-0 in the ALCS? Did they forget there was a fight until Game 4?
Jason Bay (B+)
Remember, this is for the season as a whole. I know he was terrible in June and July, but he’s bounced back in August (1.268 OPS).
Bay’s on pace for 35 homers, 118 RBI and 104 walks. That’s a season that would fit right in the middle of Manny Ramirez’s baseball-reference page, right? Is there anyone that would not have signed up for those numbers from Bay before the season started?
Ramon Ramirez (B+)
Ramirez’s WHIP by month:
Not sure what role he’ll play the rest of the way, but this has been a good deal for the Sox. Haven’t heard much clamoring for Coco Crisp (hit .228 with a slugging percentage of .378 before he went down) lately.
Victor Martinez (B+)
When the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez on July 31st they were 60-42, a game and a half behind the Yankees and a game and a half ahead in the wild card standings. Now they are 66-51, seven and a half games behind the Yankees (through Sunday) and would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today. All this has happened with Martinez hitting .311 with an .891 OPS in 14 games with the Sox. I’m not sure there’s a point to be made here, it’s just been a strange few weeks is all.
Daniel Bard (B)
Should he have a higher grade? Maybe, I think I’m hitting him too hard for the meltdown at Yankee Stadium (which really was Francona’s fault). How about the numbers at Fenway? He’s faced 53 batters and has allowed eight hits and one walk (with 17 strikeouts). Hard to believe that Papelbon and Bard will both be here through 2011, isn’t it?
Jacoby Ellsbury (B)
About as good a player with a .404 slugging percentage as you’re going to find.
Looks like he’s not going to walk much more than 40 times a season, but at least he’s cut his K rate down a little this year (on pace for 65, had 80 in 2008). He’ll need to keep doing that if he’s going to hit around .300. I think there will be some years when he hits around .270 or so but he’s a “leave alone” guy at CF for the next decade at least.
Jon Lester (B)
Reason No. 2 why I wouldn’t give up on the Red Sox' 2009 season. If they find a way to sneak into the wild card (still better than a 50/50 shot, I think; not exactly the 1998 Yankees or 1976 Reds in the wild-card battle with the Sox) they have a chance to start Lester and Beckett (or Reason No. 1) four or five times in a seven-game series.
On May 15th Lester gave up five earned runs in five-plus innings in a loss to the Mariners. His record was 2-4 and his ERA was 6.51 and there was, to put it kindly, some doubt. Since then? 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA and 118 strikouts in 106 innings. I’m not sure there have been three better pitchers in the league in the last three months. And Beckett has matched him start for start. To be seven and a half games back and out of the playoffs shows how poorly the rest of the rotation has performed.
Mike Lowell (B)
Nice bounce-back season. After a lousy June (.206 BA, .289 OBP) I figured he was ready to take his place alongside Varitek and Ortiz in the Over The Hill Gang. But he’s been the club’s best hitter since the All-Star Break (1.018 OPS) and deserves to be in the lineup every day. I don’t see an argument for Ortiz against righties over Lowell:
Ortiz vs. RHP: 272 at-bats, .221 BA, 12 HRs, .323 OBP, .401 slugging
Lowell vs. RHP: 239 at-bats, .301 BA, 8 HRS, .336 OBP, .481 slugging
Jonathan Papelbon (B)
I’ll be honest – I think Luis Aponte has a better chance of being the Red Sox closer in 2012. I don’t see it. Nothing against Papelbon’s ability or performance level, (even though his WHIP and BB/9 numbers are easily the worst of his four seasons as a closer they are still solid) but Theo isn’t going to pay $12-14 million a year for 60-70 innings. Not when he can get 80/90 percent of Papelbon from Bard at a 20th of the price. They learned their lesson from Keith Foulke. Sure, they got a great 2004, but the next two seasons were a complete wipeout and cost them $15 million bucks. Won’t happen again.
Dustin Pedroia (B)
Maybe Pedroia plays 20 years and never has a season as good as 2008. It’s possible, but he’s already done enough in 2007 and 2009 to show that the MVP isn’t a fluke. Again, I’d take 190 hits and 120 runs in any season from a second baseman, and that’s just about what Pedroia is on pace for in 2009.
Takashi Saito (B)
The anti-Smoltz: a veteran pitcher with an injury history that signed for short money and has panned out for the most part.
Can’t figure out why he’s had trouble vs. righties this season (.300 BA against) while dominating left-handed hitters (.181 BA against). Nothing in his history to suggest that this was going to happen. Of course, I also can’t figure out why ESPN needs to list every cast member of the new season of Dancing With the Stars on the scroll, or why my cousin’s wife needs to update her Facebook page with the following:
“Got the mail. Bills and some junk. Probably will wait until Wednesday to check again.”
Maybe the loneliest near-haiku ever written.
Tim Wakefield (B-)
Remember him? The Sox need Knucksie to come back and play the role of Good Tim Wakefield, the guy who allows three runs over six starts and carries the team for a month. If they get six or seven starts from Evil Tim Wakefield -- the guy so bad that he can’t crack playoff rosters -- then the season might be over.
Clay Buchholz (or, our generation’s Herb Washington) (C+)
If the playoffs started today (and the Red Sox were in them, of course) here is your Game 3 starter.
I’m not sure why I keep thinking Buchholz is 21 or 22 years old. He’s 25, or the same age as Scott Kazmir, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jon Lester. The training wheels are off now, and we’ll see what we’ve got over the next year or so. Figure Penny will be gone after this season, so this looks like the rotation in 2010.
Manny Delcarmen (C)
Manny Delcarmen in 2007: 44 innings pitched, 28 hits allowed, 17 walks, 41 Ks
Manny Delcarmen in 2009: 47.2 IP, 47 hits allowed, 25 walks, 32 Ks
Probably the easiest player to grade, actually. He’s had pretty much the definition of an average season for a relief pitcher. Is it a step back? I guess. He was great in 2007 and really good in 2008 so you’d have to be a little surprised. But every reliever not named Mariano Rivera has mixed in at least the occasional off season. If Delcarmen’s numbers continue to slip in 2010 then we’ve got a story.
Brad Penny (C-)
OK, he’s stayed healthy. Great. But that’s really about it if you want to present the case for Penny in 2009. Even when it was going well for him (3.18 ERA in June) you got the feeling he was putting band-aids on bullet wounds. The guy gives up a TON of hits (150 in 127.2 innings) and his K/BB rate is below average. Not a good combination. If Daisuke or Wakefield were healthy and Smoltz hadn’t been a disaster, Penny would have been dealt or in the bullpen. But you need a little luck to stick around, I guess. How else did Seth Green ever have a career?
J.D. Drew (D+)
This only works if you tell the joke in your Jay Leno voice:
“Strange move by Denny’s today, given the economy. They introduced the J.D. Drew Grand Slam, which costs $70 million and gives you nothing else. See, Kevin, because he hit a grand slam in a big game and makes a lot of money…"
Johnny Damon with the Yankees (3+ years): 541 games, 75 homers, 386 runs, .286 BA, .463 slugging.
J.D. Drew with the Red Sox (2+ years) 349 games, 43 homers, 225 runs, .269 BA, .462 slugging.
In fairness, Drew has an edge in OBP and OPS, but at best he’s been a wash with Damon. As I’ve written before, if Drew was signed to a reasonable contract ($8-9 million a year) nobody would ever mention him. But the Red Sox have paid Drew $14 million a year to do his best Matt Stairs impression (okay power, decent OBP, nothing else).
Nick Green (D+)
Had a solid May (.321 BA), but things have gotten Health Care Town Meeting ugly since, with an OBP of .288 in June, .222 in July and .267 so far in August. So I guess bringing in Alex Gonzalez and his .254 OBP is an upgrade, if only because of his prowess on defense (Curt Schilling is a believer). The truth is that Green’s history pointed to this dropoff, and his six weeks or so of good play early in the season was a bonus.
David Ortiz (D)
Admit it, you had August 8th in the “David Ortiz will blame this whole thing on the media” pool, didn’t you? Well, he proved you wrong. Drink in the shame.
Jason Varitek (D-)
Here’s what I wrote about Varitek in the Report Card from two months ago (remember, The Captain was off to a nice start):
I think the Pink Hats should maybe slow down just a little with the victory lap on this one. Sure, Varitek has hit 10 homers, but let’s be honest: that is all that he has done offensively. He’s a bad month away from having a .230 average with a .300 OBP at the All-Star Break. But he has been absolutely a positive to this point, and maybe he ends up with 18-20 HRs and a .240 average.
Before I give myself the full Pitino restaurant treatment, I should admit the final line of the column was this prediction:
John Smoltz after five starts? 2-1 with a 3.62 ERA.
John Smoltz (F)
Small sample size, but Smoltz had a K/BB ratio of 3.67 in his eight starts, a total that would actually rank sixth in the American League.
Couldn’t Smoltz have stuck around and pitched out of the bullpen? His best numbers came in his first 25 pitches of each game (.286 slugging against), and he was tough on righties (.232 BA against). Of course, every lefty was Roy Hobbs:
Lefties against Smoltz in 2009: .440 batting average, .490 OPS, .758 slugging.
Michael Bowden, Chris Carter, Hunter Jones, Jed Lowrie, Gil Velaquez, Jeff Bailey, Casey Kotchman, Javier Lopez, Junichi Tazawa, Fernando Cabrera, Hunter Jones, Josh Reddick, Jonathan Van Every
Things Haven’t Changed in the Last Two Months:
Rocco Baldelli (a “D” last time) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (an “F”)
Semi-Fearless Predictions for the Final 45 (or 46) Games?
David Ortiz is benched for the final month of the season (complete with a DL stint as he “works things out”).
Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to make one start before leaving the game in the fourth inning with “shoulder stiffness.” He does not pitch again in 2009.
The Red Sox finish the season with a 92-70 record, good for a one-game playoff with the Rangers. Jon Lester throws seven shutout innings and Mike Lowell homers in a 4-2 win.